1. Who will break through?
Every year at New Smyrna, there are stars born. This is where we saw Jeff Choquette come off the dirt and start to establish himself as a Super Late Model force. This is also where Jimmy Blewett emerged from the shadows of his brother John and started kicking some serious Modified tail. Last year, it was Logan Ruffin who emerged as the latest big name of Florida Speedweeks.
So who do we think might pull off the same feat this year? There are no shortages of contenders. We'll explain why in more detail later, but we think that Jeremy Colangelo (Super Late Models), Johanna Long (Super Late Models) and Bobby Grigas (Modifieds) are some of the best bets. You also can't overlook the potential of Joey Pole to steal the show in the Crate Late Models or Jon McKennedy to break through and win multiple Mod features during the week.
And there could be a one-shot wonder when Michael Pope and the BDI Racing team show up late in the week. Pope, who will make his first Speedweeks appearance, will be taking aim at the biggest Super Late Model race of the week - The Pete Orr Memorial 100. Given his record on the short tracks of the South, we expect Pope's learning curve to be a short one.
2. Will it be a feast or famine for TC?
Ted Christopher tends to have either really good years at New Smyrna or really bad ones. He's been the force in Modifieds and Super Late Models at times, winning multiple races in each type of cars and he has also suffered through droughts at the track as well.
Right now, Teddy is on top of his game though. He doesn't appear to have any Super Late Model plans for this month and he heads into New Smyrna as the defending champion on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. He'll drive for the Joe Brady-owned #00 team again and this is a combination that knows how to win together - and did so most recently at All-Star Speedway (NH) last summer. We think that '09 will be one of Christopher's more memorable Speedweeks.
3. Will it be Russell, Choquette or “other” in the Super Late Models?
It seems like you could possibly flip a coin in the Super Late Model ranks at New Smyrna and be able to tell if it will be Tim Russell or Jeff Choquette who will be the one to win the Speedweeks championship. But don't engrave those trophies yet.
Yes, we think that Russell and Choquette are the favorites, but they'll also have their work cut out for them with Wayne Anderson, Jeremy Colangelo, Jack Landis and others all wanting a bit of glory for themselves.
4. Can anyone stop Jimmy Blewett?
In recent seasons, it seems that Jimmy Blewett has been the force of Speedweeks. He's been winning races and titles in both the Tour Modifieds and SK Modifieds. He probably enters 2009 as the odds-on favorite as well.
But don't forget that it was Eric Beers who won the Richie Evans Memorial 100 last season or that Ted Christopher knows a thing or two about winning there as well. Matt Hirschman will make the tow to New Smyrna for the first time as well, Chuck Hossfeld is also a contender there, Bobby Grigas is ready to make some noise and Ronnie Silk is always quietly making his way to the front anywhere there are Modifieds.
Blewett might win it all again this year, but he'll have his work cut out for him.
5. Who will be watching?
With the big leagues of NASCAR is action over at Daytona and lots of Northerners trying to get out of the cold at home; you never know who will stop by New Smyrna during Speedweeks. We've seen Kyle Busch, Tony Stewart, Steve Park and a lot of Cup crew members all stop by the track to check out the action.
You never know who you'll see walking the pits at New Smyrna.
6. Will Wayne Anderson slow, or settle, down any?
That is doubtful. Anderson knows his way around a short track and he knows set-ups too. He'll be a force on the track and we're guaranteeing that he won't back down from any on-track battles either.
Actually, he probably won't back down from any off-track battles either. It was just a few months ago when we saw him try to take on Grant Enfinger's Super Late Model with his bare hands on pit road. Be sure to watch Anderson at New Smyrna because one way or another, he'll probably be where the action is at.
7. Is Colangelo ready to make his mark?
File Jeremy Colangelo is the category is driver ready to break out. The young Floridian wheels cars owned by Mark Martin and he's been learning his craft on the short tracks of the area. This will be his first run at the Speedweeks Super Late Model championship and we expect him to be a contender right out of the box.
8. Can there be a Northern invasion in the Crate Late Models?
When you think of Crate Late Models, you usually think of ASA Late Model-type cars and teams. But a trio of ACT Late Modelers are headed for Florida to try and change your preconceptions. Vermont's Eric Chase won a New Smyrna feature last season, Patrick Laperle hails from Canada and is the defending ACT champion and Joey Pole of New Hampshire is a terror to track records in anything that he drives. Can all three win feature races this year? Don't bet against it.
9. Will the Florida Modifieds behave?
We've seen 10-car pileups with the Florida Modifieds and some real destructive features. We've also seen some great racing in the division as well. Hopefully guys will use their heads and not their bumpers this year and give the fans more great shows without many tows.
10. Who will fight?
We're not going to ask if there will be any fights at New Smyrna this year…we're just wondering when there are altercations, who will be involved in them. That is anyone's guess, but we can tell you almost certainly that there will be verbal jabs, and maybe a few physical ones, exchanged down there. It happens every year.
11. Just how many Crate Late Models will be on hand?
The class with the most growth at New Smyrna is recent seasons has been the Crate Late Models and we expected that to continue this year. Our bet is that the highest car counts of any division will be in the Crate LM pits. How many will be there? We won't even try to guess, but it should be a good number.
12. How will Matt Hirschman adapt to Speedweeks?
Matt Hirschman has won some big open shows. He's won on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and in the RoC Modifieds, but he's never won at New Smyrna. Why? Well, that answer is simple, he's never raced there. But expect Matt to be a quick learner this year as he takes the orange #59 Mod out for a spin.
13. How will the economy affect the car counts?
Unfortunately, yes. Although the entry list for Florida Speedweeks is a stout one, we know of a few regulars who don't plan to make the trip to Florida this year.
We don't expect to see a Cushman Competition Ford in the Super Late Model lineup and 2006 Speedweeks Modified champion Andy Seuss isn't planning to run for points down there. Maybe we'll see his New Hampshire-based team enter a few late week events, but we're not even sure of that at this point. PASS standout Trevor Sanborn has been looking for a Speedweeks ride this year as well, but doesn't have anything lined up yet. The tough economy is to blame when it comes to these absentees.
14. Is Preece ready to contend every night?
Ryan Preece has shown that he can win feature races during Florida Speedweeks and that was before his breakthrough 2008 season on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. Now that he's become a top name in that series, we expect him to join the ranks of Blewett, Christopher, Hossfeld and Beers as the drivers to beat at New Smyrna.
15. Will Johanna go Long?
We keep being impressed every time we watch Johanna Long race. We're not even sure that we can call anytime that the teenager over excels a surprise anymore. She turned heads at the Snowball Derby and took a top five finisher home from SpeedFest 2009. Now she's headed to New Smyrna with her Super Late Model and we are thinking we might be wow'ed yet again.
16. Will a Clark hop into a car?
Johnny Clark was hanging out and helping out at New Smyrna last year when the three-time PASS North champion got a chance to hop into a Super Late Model and do some racing. Clark is going back this year, but without his racecar. He'll also be joined by his buddy Cassius Clark. Neither driver has any plans to actually race, but if a car become available who knows what will happen? We're pretty sure that neither of these racecars goes anywhere without packing their firesuits.
17. Will consistency pay off for Grigas?
One of the most consistent Modsters at New Smyrna last season was Bobby Grigas. He racked up the top fives and top tens. Now he's got veteran crew chief Kevin Crowley on his team and he looks to step up to the winner's circle down at Speedweeks in 2009.
18. What happened to the Pro Challenge cars?
The Pro Challenge cars put on a good show at New Smyrna. The speedy little racecars are well suited for the track. But they aren't on the schedule this year and we wondered why. The answer is that some of the younger racers in the Pro Challenge family aren't allowed to race at New Smyrna, which means that anyone running for points will take a huge hit right when the season starts if they are too young. So although they'll be back at the track at some point in the future, they'll be racing over at Orlando Speedworld instead during this February's Florida Speedweeks.
19. Where should I stay? What Should I eat?
This is an easy question to answer.
Avoid the cruddy tourist trap hotels of the beach or the overpriced chains and give Oceans Properties a call. They have a lineup of houses and condos available each year and thanks to some last minute cancellations, they might even be able to squeeze you into some nice accommodations this year on short notice.
And as far as dining options go, Pub 44 inNew Smyrna Beach at 1889 State Road 44 is open until 2am, so that makes it a great place to grab a bite after the nightly races. You'll likely see some drivers, crews and members of the Speed51.com gang there too!
20. What can I do if I'm not going to Florida?
Another easy question to answer. Check out Speed51.com's Trackside Now coverage for the latest news, happenings and photos straight from New Smyrna.